Feeling Good

Saturday’s “long” run took me to a new place with a good friend. I found myself with a spare weekend and no plans so I put a shoutout on Facebook. It was good to catch up with Audrey and to run a bit of the Glen Ogle race route. I’ve driven out this way a couple of times but otherwise it’s not an area I know at all.

The route we ran is probably absolutely beautiful, but we couldn’t see very much at all.

We had a slight fail on the equipment front – I’d forgotten to put any Smidge on and Audrey hadn’t brought a waterproof. I had but decided against wearing it as it was so warm, and so we looked like drowned rats when we arrived back at the car.

It was a day where I felt glad to be alive – glad to be running again, glad to have mostly recovered from the latest lurgy, glad to live in such a gorgeous part of the world, glad to have good friends around me.

I joined Audrey halfway into her 24 mile run, which meant she had slowed down a bit, plus there was a lot of walking anyway as there were some fairly steep hills. The pace was just right for me and how I was feeling. My chest was a bit tight in a few places and my glutes and quads felt like concrete, but otherwise, everything felt good. I couldn’t believe I was out running and feeling ready to start getting back to normal mileage for a couple of weeks before dropping down again ahead of the Eiger.

I did a short easy session in the gym midweek. That morning, I felt absolutely shattered and I questioned whether I should be doing anything at all, but my body felt so stuck, so stiff and stodgy and fed up and not my own. I decided a little gentle movement couldn’t hurt, and I would stop if anything felt really wrong. It was the right decision to give it a go, and I felt much much better for it. I managed 3 1/2 steady minutes on the versa climber/torture rack, and I chuckled to myself as I remembered the first time I tried it back in December when I just about survived a minute on it. There will be many more minutes spent on it over the next few weeks as I continue to prepare for some massive climbs and descents in the Alps.

I’ve only been using the gym regularly since about December but I’ve been surprised how much it has become part of my training and part of my week. I was even more surprised when I realised I’d missed it. I feel stronger, yes definitely, but I also feel better about myself and my body.

Now that I’m back to moving again as normal, it’s probably time to get back to normal eating patterns too rather than giving into all the carby junk food cravings as I have been in recent weeks….

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In between

I’m in an in-betweeny phase at the moment.

Normally I hate these phases, but things have been a bit unsettled lately and I’m enjoying the sense of just pausing in between Things and drawing breath.

The race on Skye has been and gone.

The race in Switzerland is on the not too distant horizon.

I’m recovering from a really bad phase/episode/bout (?) of asthma.

My blistered feet are healing.

I’m in the post Isle of Man TT slump.

My April gig has settled into my consciousness as a done deal, processed, successful, dealt with.

I’m thinking about moving house and a few things are in motion but I’m not pushing them because I’m interested to see what will reveal itself about the whole situation.

I’ve been going to bed at a vastly more sensible hour.

My energy levels are returning to normal and I can breathe clearly and easily.

The last couple of months have absolutely battered me and so I am gathering strength for the next phase, and I’m super conscious of the need to protect my health and my spirit at all costs.

I keep saying this after every time I’m ill, but this time there has been a breakthrough.

I’ve reached the point where I am bored with it, and that usually means that change will follow.

Interval Alley **

Rep 1 I set off at a pace I know I cannot sustain over 8 reps. Am I going hard enough? I am pumping my arms, lengthening my stride, breathing hard. So hard. How do I know if I can do more?

Keep going, keep breathing in rhythm, don’t look at your phone, just wait for the beeps.

Is that a beep? Oh, yes it is, wait, there’s another one. Thank fuck.

Recovery 1 Walk a little, try to run slowly. Keep breathing hard.

 

Rep 2 Can I do this? For 7 more reps?

Keep going, keep breathing in rhythm, don’t look at your phone, just wait for the beeps.

Trust that they will come.

Count to 20 over and over. Am I going hard enough?

And there it is. My lungs feel like they are going to burst out of my chest through the back of my throat. It’s going to be horrible.

Yes, you are going hard enough.

Recovery 2 Walk a little, try to run slowly. Keep breathing hard. Look at the stars and the lights and the hills.

 

Rep 3 I think I’m going to be sick. I actually might be sick right here. There’s someone coming. Oh arse. I’m going to be sick everywhere and someone’s going to see and ask if I’m alright and what I’m doing and why.
Trying to get faster.

Just to see what it’s like and if I can do it and for how long.

Back off a little, keep going, don’t look at your phone, just wait for the beeps.

Recovery 3 Walk a little, look at the stars and the lights and the hills.

 

Rep 4,5,6,7
Don’t look at your phone, just wait for the beeps.

Lungs need to slow down, fine but keep going, just keep trying to lift your legs a bit and keep using your arms.

Shoulders back and down. Where are your elbows, your neck, your arms, your fingers, your head, your pelvis. God this is like harp practice.

But instead of thinking about the position of every single bit of your body to avoid injury and make a great sound, this is about something different.

This is about learning to go faster. PRACTISING going faster (thank you awesome coach last year who put it into musical terms and helped me get it)

This is about learning to explore, and learning to trust that your body can do it if you let your mind just try.

Rep 8 is barely faster than my normal slow run.

Finally, there are the last beeps.

I’m back in proper training and it feels good.

 
My legs are wrecked. They’ve never felt like this before, I’ve never tried quite so hard before. The slow plod back to the house feels weird, my legs feel like jelly and lead all at the same time. The short slope back to the main road that I always run up even at the end of the longest run feels like a mountain.

It’s over.

Until next week.

It is next week now.

Tonight, interval alley awaits. It will probably be raining or snowing. But I quite like it like that.

** Interval Alley isn’t really an alley. It’s a section of path near my house, but it’s quite enclosed by trees and hedges and is often dark when I tend to go, so feels a bit like an alleyway. There are rarely any people on that stretch at the time I go so I don’t feel too silly.
It goes through a farm, and usually there are only sheep for company, occasionally a couple of horses or cows or even deer, and every now and then I’m joined by an owl or a bat. I can’t even remember why I picked it now but having a silly name for it now makes it feel a little bit gladiatorial. I quite like that.
I never thought I could do intervals but I worked with an amazing coach for a little while at the start of last year and he made me make myself do them. I was stunned by how much I enjoyed them (afterwards) and how they made me feel so strong after, literally like I could do anything I set my mind to, maybe even take on the world.

Four miles

I had some really good news last week. 

Finally there is an end in sight to the ridiculous work situation that has been going on for the last few months. 

I was away in Liverpool for a gig over the weekend and as I looked in the mirror while I was getting ready, I actually didn’t recognise myself. 

I’ve not been able to run due to long hours at work and some really bad asthma days. My skin looks dreadful and I’ve got the spots and redness that I always get when I’m worrying too much. I’ve put on a little bit more weight than I’m comfortable with and my food habits have slid towards the junky end of the spectrum. 

This is everything I’d worked so hard to leave behind when I moved to Scotland, and so it has been incredibly upsetting to find myself back in this awful environment of fear and pressure.

Knowing the end is in sight helps enormously. Last weekend’s gig was a cracker. It came at the perfect time and it reminded me that there are many other ways to live your life. 

Staying with a friend from a few years ago kind of put me back in touch with myself – the self that stays hidden most of the time these days (and is the Flourish referred to in my blog title) but comes out when there’s some performing to be done on my terms. 

Liverpool is a really special city for me, it holds very strong and very happy childhood memories of a couple of day trips with an aunt who isn’t with us any more. More recently, it took care of my uncle during his chemotherapy. He described seeing the Isle of Man ferry being loaded up with bikes for the TT and wishing he was sailing away, and now I can’t look at pictures of the Liverpool waterfront without thinking of him and how relieved I am that he survived.

We drove around the city afterwards, through the docks, past all my friends favourite haunts and our next gig space. I love driving round cities at night, there’s an energy around the empty streets and motorways that really excites me. It’s much more fun on a motorbike than in my old Audi estate, but sharing it with F made it all the more special. 

I drove home on Sunday feeling revitalised and ready to get through the last few weeks of work.

Wednesday night brought me a little further back to myself. It was freezing cold, well below zero, icy underfoot. I ran four miles along a route I do regularly, a flat unspectacular trot along an old railway path. My headtorch batteries were badly needing a charge, so given the slippy conditions that I couldn’t quite see, I decided to come back along the main road instead. 

I noticed the patterns on the pavements as I reached the centre of the village. 

It’s a very small but subtle difference between living where I live now and where I lived before, and it seems a little strange but it’s one of my favourite things about living here. 

The pavements get gritted in the winter.

Sometimes I’m woken by a faint whirring sound outside accompanied by flashing yellow lights through my window. The first time I heard it I got out of bed to look, and there was a little white vehicle crawling along the pavements. 

I find pavemeng gritters strangely comforting, and when I see them they remind me of all the little things I love about being here, and all the things that are so minor on the face of it and yet mean so very much. 
I should be clocking 30-40 mile training weeks by now, but I know these will come when life is on a more even keel. The extra weight (that really isn’t much but is noticeable to me, and affects my asthma) will soon come off and I really don’t need to worry. 

It’s amazing what a little chilly slow run can do. 

 

Grey, green, orange

Autumn is out in all its glorious colour in Scotland. We’ve had a beautiful few weeks with only a couple of really soggy days. The combination of shorter days, turning leaves, migrating geese and lower sun in the sky mean that winter is firmly on its way. But the landscape is absolutely stunning.

I’m going into my fourth winter up here. Bad things still happen in the ‘new’ life, but I am much more resilient and able to cope with the knocks when they come. A tough hill race nearly finished me off emotionally for a few days, but I got through it and will live to fight another day. Difficult days at work are shrugged off relatively easily, and there is a freedom and a lightness that I didn’t have where I lived before.

I’ve had my head down for a few weeks but I emerged a few days ago, having had a pretty much perfect week and a visit from my parents. I’m back running again, and while Saturday’s run was grey, damp, hard and badly disrupted by my asthma, the miles out on the Antonine Wall yesterday morning with friends were the exact opposite. 

My entries are in for my races next year. This gives me some of the focus I need to keep going through the winter. There are three new ones, and an old one I didn’t complete the first time around. 

Three of them are south of the border, two are totally different to anything I’ve done before, and one of these will yet again be the biggest scariest thing I’ve ever contemplated doing. 

As a result, I’m tremendously excited while being ever so slightly terrified at the same time. But this is what I love doing, and I do it for the moments where everything stops around me and all I am aware of is my lungs working and the scenery around me.

I’ve had to rope my parents in to help with the big one, which will be a new experience for all of us. Dad is a long distance cyclist with a love of 24 hour time trials in bad weather, and Mum is really good at tough love and not giving in when you’re scared. 

I’m learning a new piece on the harp at the moment and it has become a bit of a mantra. 

Everything will be all right. 

taken from Croy Hill early yesterday morning
  
lookimg towards home from Croy Hill